It is no secret that the armed conflict in Colombia with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians during its more-than-50 year lifespan. The numbers are staggering, as more than 220,000 people have been killed, 80 percent of whom were civilians, 150,000 people have been displaced each year since 1985, and more than 63,000 people have been officially reported as missing. Of those missing persons, many are thought to have been buried in mass graves scattered across the country.1 However, the Search for Unidentified People has served to bookend the stories of thousands of people that have disappeared during the conflict.
Over the last three years, the Colombian program has searched through roughly a quarter of the country’s cemeteries and scoured the land for unmarked mass graves in an attempt to locate the tens of thousands missing persons. Their efforts have proven successful, though, as the program has discovered 28,000 unidentified bodies through this rigorous search. While many of these bodies are believed to be victims of the conflict with FARC, another sizeable portion of the corpses could possibly belong to victims of the “False Positives” scandal committed by Colombian soldiers.2
During the eight-year term of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe from 2002 to 2010, the Colombian military would kill civilians and dress them in guerrilla clothing in order to pass the victims off as paramilitaries and collect a reward from the federal government. In December 2015, a group of Colombian mothers from the city of Soacha planned to sue President Uribe for slander after their sons were killed in 2008 at the hands of the Colombian military. In June of 2015, Uribe had tweeted that their sons were “involved in illegal activities.” However, according to past criminal investigations, the victims were executed by the Army’s 15th Brigade and were buried in a mass grave .3
The decades-long armed conflict has brought with it scores of deaths and the disappearance of thousands of Colombians. Be it at the hands of FARC or their own government, the Search for Unidentified People program in Colombia is helping to put an end to the mystery. Over the last three years, the program has unearthed 28,000 bodies and counting in only a fraction of the country’s cemeteries or mass graves. According to Telesur, “The program is currently planned to run until 2019, at which time the government expects to search the whole country.”2
1. “Colombia.” International Commission on Missing Persons. 2016. Available at: http://www.icmp.int/where-we-work/the-americas/latin-america-and-the-caribbean/colombia/
2. “Colombia’s Search for the Disappeared Unearths 28,000 Bodies.” Telesur. 21 Feb. 2016. Available at: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Colombias-Search-for-the-Disappeared-Unearths-28000-Bodies--20160221-0021.html
3. “Mothers of Victims of Colombia’s ‘False Positives’ Sue Uribe for Slander.” Telesur. 14 Dec. 2015. Available at:http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Colombia-Mothers-of-False-Positives-Victims-Sue-Alvaro-Uribe-20151214-0008.html